Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Fine Start to a Wild & Wacky Wine Week

I've been mentioning recently that I'm into my last 100 wines before I open that celebratory 2001st bottle. Having just knocked off a bottle of Mencia the other night, I figure why not try and hit my 200th grape variety for the Wine Century Club before #2001 as well. Accordingly, a "Wild & Wacky Wine Week" seems to be in order. I've been grabbing a few bottles that feature uncommon grape varieties; so, move over Merlot and shuffle off Chardonnay, it's time to try something a little less recognizable.

1910.  2013 Domaine La Rosière - Jongieux (Vin de Savoie AOC - France)

Can't say that I knew anything about this region, the winery, Domaine la Rosière, or the grape used to make this white from the lower parts of the French Alps. Savoie - or Savoy - is found east of Beaujolais and on the border with Switzerland and, as such, most of the vineyards are planted on "very steep, southwest facing slopes created by ancient glaciers."

Jongieux is one of the villages found in the heart of the region and its name is given to one of the winemaking communes. The Jongieux white is made entirely from the Jacquère grape and this rare-ish baby definitely hits my Wine Century Club  tally as one that I haven't tried before. Jacquère is the most important white grape grown in the Savoie but, according to Jancis Robinson's Wine Grapes, there is not much grown elsewhere in the world - perhaps a bit in the northern Rhône and some in pockets of Portugal.

I was pleasantly surprised by the wine. It had a nice full body that was matched by good acidity and bright citrus notes. I can't say that this is indicative of all Jacquère wines, but I see that the winery's vineyards are graced with warm microclimate for the region and the wine is aged on its lees (or spent yeast cells), the former helping to ripen the fruit and the latter fleshing out the body of the wine.

In any event, I was fairly taken by the wine. I'd have been happy enough to simply add Jacquère as #179 to my tally, but it's always nice to get that added bonus of liking the wine to boot. This is an encouraging start for the other "wild & wacky" wines to come this week.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Domino de Tares

As mentioned in a recent post, I'm hoping to take advantage of the fact that I'm into my final hundred wines before I hit my goal of 2001 bottles. I figure this is as good an opportunity as any to open some bottles that I'd otherwise be inclined to leave in the cellar for a little more ageing - or for that appropriate, landmark moment where a nicer bottle is called for.

I can easily say that we have more bottles than we'll likely need for "landmark" moments. Accordingly, having Mr. D. visit us for a mid-week dinner has just qualified for a more premium bottle than we'd normally reach for. The fact that Mr. D. and Mexican Lou gave Boo and I this bottle some years back for our 10 year anniversary and "real" legal wedding makes it an even more legitimate as a pick.

1909.  2004 Domino de Tares Bembibre (Bierzo D.O. - Spain)

Bierzo isn't nearly as recognized as Rioja, Priorat or Ribera del Duero when it comes to Spain's premium wine producing regions. Located in the north-west part of Spain, Bierzo is seen as an up and coming region - one that is undergoing a modernization from moribund, local wine producers to fashionable wineries with sought after wines. Domino de Tares is one of the new wineries in the region - it was established in 2000 - and is seen as leading the charge of modernization.

Most of the important red wines of Bierzo are based on the Mencia grape. Not seen much outside of pockets of Spain and Portugal, Mencia is often identified as falling somewhere between Pinot Noir and Syrah in terms of character. Until recently, wines made from Mencia were often seen in rather thin, entry level wines that don't do much to impress. Winemaking in Bierzo traditionally saw the vines planted in a bush pruning method and the vineyards were worked entirely by hand. In the region's efforts to improve production standards, the wineries have looked to modernize in a way that allows them to employ tractors in the vineyards. That re-working of the vineyards generally leads to fewer vines per acre and the growers often try to compensate by growing more grapes per vine - thereby resulting in lower quality fruit.

Thus far, Dominio de Taras has had its growers maintain the traditional vineyard layout and field working methods and, accordingly, is seen as pushing the envelope in terms of raising the profile of Mencia. This Bembibre is a prime example of those efforts. Bigger than what I might have expected, the wine had more dark fruit than I usually associate with Spanish wine. If this is what premium varietal Mencia is meant to taste like, I'm only too happy to check it out on a more regular basis.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Walking A Tightrope

When I started this blog back in 2009, there were around 170 wineries in production in BC. Six years later and there are over 250. With a few wineries changing hands every year and some closing down altogether, there's a steady stream of new wineries every time you take a new look. Given Boo's and my participation in the BC Wine Appreciation Society and the number of times we visit the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys or attend industry-coordinated tastings, I figure I have a better handle on local wineries than most.

I still can't keep up with the ever-changing landscape though. There's only so much space on the Naramata Bench but it seems that we find a new selection of wineries even there when we pay a visit. I ran across this bottle when trying to locate a hard to find wine from the Bench at the Naramata General Store. Being an out and out aficionado of Rosé, I grabbed this instead when my other wine wasn't available.

1908.  2013 Tightrope Rosé (Naramata Bench - Okanagan Valley)

Tightrope began selling its wines in 2013 but I had yet to run across them. The winery is a new venture of Lyndsey and Graham O'Rourke. The couple are hardly strangers to the Okanagan and the Naramata Bench though. Lyndsey was the award-winning winemaker for Ruby Blues and Graham was a viticultural with Mission Hill. According to local wine scribe, John Schreiner, Graham learned about Okanagan growing conditions in 26 vineyards through the valley and "launched the Mission Hill sustainability program and ... composting program." I figure it's fair to say that they bring a bit of a pedigree with them to the fledgling winery.

Both Graham and Lyndsey have left their respective positions to concentrate on their own 10-acre vineyard and wines - although they still make some time available for consulting services. The couple has planted a selection of grapes known to do well on the Bench including Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier, Pinot Noir and Merlot. They've also added small blocks of Cab Franc and Barbera, the latter being one of the rarer varieties to be planted in BC. Barbera doesn't even make the list of top twenty red varieties planted by tonnage or by value. It's rare enough that its production falls behind those juggernaut grapes Zweigelt, Dunkelfelder and Rotberger.

Tightrope's Barbera makes it into this Rosé, however. The variety was about 15% of the 2013 vintage, the balance of the wine being Pinot Noir. All of the grapes came from Tightrope's own vineyard and production was definitely on the smaller side - only 100 cases of the Rosé was made in 2013 - but the abundance red fruit and bright acidity on the palate will make it worth running into again.

There was still no tasting room for the winery when I came upon this bottle but word is that the O'Rourkes hope to have a tasting room up and running sometime in the near future - hopefully before the 2015 tourist season kicks in for the Okanagan. We'll have to give them a taste next time we make it up to Naramata.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Festival Treat from Kaesler

1907.  2012 Kaesler - Stonehorse GMS (Barossa Valley - Australia)

So, I find myself running into just a tiny, little problem nowadays. We don't exactly have any room in the cellar (such as our cellar is - a couple wine fridges, a closet, a spare bathroom tub and a stairwell) for new acquisitions. And, as much as I try to rein my buying habits and Boo tries to tighten the "No Buy Leash," there are always going to be occasions where I have no choice but to buy a new bottle or two. The annual Vancouver International Wine Festival is one such occasion.

As noted earlier in this blog, the theme region at this year's Festival was Australia and the Festival always has a number of wines available that aren't otherwise available in our market. As regular readers of the blog know, I readily admit that I have a jones for Aussie wines. So, needless to say, I didn't make things any easier on myself for space at home.

Since I didn't exactly have a spot for this bottle, I just decided to pull the cork - even though we have other bottles that likely should have been opened first.

I don't know much about Kaesler and their wines but I do recognize them from a couple of attendances at the Festival over the years. The vineyards and winery were founded by the Kaesler family in the 1890's and they operated the winery until 1986. The current owners purchased the winery in 1999 and have strived to take advantage of the premium lands and old vines ever since. The vineyards are farmed sustainably and the owners have expanded production into the Clare Valley and McLaren Vale (although those wines are released under the Clare Wine Co. and Nashwauk Vineyards banners respectively).

The Stonehorse is a classic Barossa GSM or Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvèdre blend - although this is a GMS with the Grenache playing a major (80%) role and the Mourvèdre (17%) and Shiraz (3%) balancing out the blend. The Stonehorse is from Kaesler's entry level series and is a fruit forward, easily accessible wine. The winery did, however, bring a major treat to the Festival as well - if you were lucky enough to try the wine while they still had some to pour. Kaesler's flagship wine - Old Bastard - is a single vineyard Shiraz, made from some of the vines originally planted back in the 1890's by the Kaesler family. I would have loved to add a bottle of the Old Bastard to The List but, unfortunately, the wine wasn't for sale as they only make 500 cases and it retails for over $200 a bottle when it is available. I did get my picture taken with a bottle though as I've been called a similar name often enough. In fact, an acquaintance that happened to be at the Kaesler table at the same time I was there suggested that I could make the Old Bastard my "signature" wine. I should be so lucky.

I always wonder how the wines I pick up at the Festival are going to taste when I get them home. Luckily, it's not too often that I open a bottle at home and wonder what the heck I was thinking at the Festival. There was no such concern here. The Stonehorse remained a good sip - always a good sign.

Now I guess we just need to do some drinking to free up some more space for more purchases.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Rex Hill Pinot to Remember

Well, now that the Canucks have been knocked out of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, my evening TV viewing will certainly be freed up in the weeks to come. Looks like we'll probably move out of the BC Syrah for a bit seeing as how I made Syrah the theme wine for the Canuck/Flames series.

Now that I'm into the final 100 wines of this Wine Odyssey, I'm hoping to open a few bottles that we've been hiding away for awhile. Filling the glass with some Willamette Pinot seemed to be as good a place as any.

Our Vancouver market doesn't see a whole lot of Oregon wine available on general release at the government liquor stores. There might be a few wines in the specialty shops but I think you pretty much have to visit the private wine shops to find much in the way of selection and even those shops will likely have only a limited number of bottles to choose from. It's a shame given the proximity of Oregon to BC.

That being said, it's not too surprising that I don't have much of a grasp of Oregon wines. In light of that limited knowledge, it was an exciting time when I had a brief exposure to the region while attending the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference that was held in Portland. One of my favourite memories of WBC12 was our visit to the Willamette Valley. Conference attendees were asked to jump onto a bus not knowing what their destination would be. Turns out that I made a great choice - our bus ended up at Rex Hill winery where they teamed up with an assortment of their neighbours for a vineyard tour, cellar tasting and wine dinner in the winery's garden.

It certainly didn't hurt that, during our dinner at Rex Hill, we were treated to a taste of the 1992 Pinot Noir - poured from a 9-litre Salmanazar bottle. That's a whole case of standard size bottles poured into one.

The afternoon and evening left enough of an impression that I made sure that Rex Hill was one of the half dozen or so wineries that Boo and I visited when we had a chance to spend a day in the Willamette on our California road trip a couple of years later.

I don't think I've ever seen a bottle of Rex Hill for sale in Vancouver; so I'm happy that I was able to pick a couple bottles during those two visits.

1906.  2008 Rex Hill Reserve Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley - Oregon)

The winery website says that 2008 was seen as "one of the finest vintages on record" at Rex Hill - "a vintage defined by the vineyard rather than the weather because each site developed fully to reveal their pedigree." The winery says that the '08 vintage should age gracefully for many years and we can attest to the fact that this bottle still had plenty of life to it. This was definitely a fruit-driven bottling but both Boo and I thought that the integration and complexity of the tannins and bright, dark cherry notes was both explosive and tasty. No doubt, the depth of flavours, in part, resulted from the fact that the Reserve Pinot is a blending of the winery's finest barrels from a variety of vineyards and blocks.

The estate vineyard, itself, is dry framed, using biodynamic farming practices. You can argue how big a part this decision may have played in the wine's profile but, in my mind at least, the dry farming should definitely result in reduced yields of more expressive grapes. Rex Hill was only established in 1982 and it saw a change in ownership in 2007 but the winery has concentrated on premium Pinot Noir since day one, with a small production of Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. During my WBC12 visit, we were told that they produce around 10,000 cases - as opposed to 100,000 - and they strive to make the best use of the land while revitalizing and enhancing that soil with products and by-products that come from the same lands.

For me, this is New World Pinot at its best - and the wine's a worthy addition to the Odyssey's last choices for The List.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Knocked Out By A Bunch of Flamers

As our Aussie buddy, Merlot Boy, was quick to point out, "the Canucks got knocked out by a bunch of Flamers."

2006 Burrowing Owl Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

No wine in the glass. No number for The List. No more Canucks hockey this year. It was just that kind of a game.

The shot for the blog was actually taken the morning after - seeing as how the morning paper's headline had already announcing the demise of the Canucks' season - hence no wine in the glass. You may rest assured, however, that we finished off the bottle. Just like the Flames finished off the Canucks with a 7-4 score in the game and a 4-2 series win in the best-of-7 playoff round.

The bottle doesn't get a number on The List simply because I couldn't have been paying much attention as I grabbed the bottle because we just drank the '06 Burrowing Owl Syrah last week and added it to The List at #1899. There actually is a bit of a story but I suppose it all comes back to small print on the labels and the fact that I'm getting older and the eyes don't do so well with that small print. I thought I'd grabbed the '05 when we started off the series. Silly me.

I think that, come this Fall, we're going to be hearing much the same story about the Canucks - that they're just getting too old and that they can't be as competitive as they were four and five years ago. At least, this Syrah still had some legs to it. My Delectable note said "Brilliant, fruit-filled nose upon opening (but sadly, it diminished over time). Still exhibited nice body and integrated structure (more than the Canucks did while I was watching the game). "

Obviously, we were all hoping that the Canucks would take the series and have a nice long run into the playoffs. I was already lining the BC Rieslings for the second round.

Heavy sigh.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Winning Wine. Winning Game.

I kind of doubt that tonight's choice in wine had anything to do with the Canucks' performance, but we were in awe of this wine and the Canucks were pretty awesome themselves on the ice.

1905.  2003 Sandhill - Phantom Creek Vineyard Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

At the time I grabbed this bottle, I knew it was a Lt. Governor's Award winner but I didn't know that the '03 Small Lots Syrah was not only the Syrah/Shiraz of the Year at the 2005 Canadian Wine Awards but it was also named Red Wine of the Year at the same competition. Quite the pedigree. Winemaker - and all around good guy - Howard Soon, thought that the 2003 would be a great follow-up vintage to the equally decorated 2002 Small Lots Syrah and boy was he bang on the money.

We were very pleasantly surprised at the longevity of this Syrah. Despite being fully caught up in a very entertaining hockey game, I made a small note on the wine on Delectable and it read, "In awe that this '03 has such staying power. Nose. Fruit. Ripe tannin. Acidity. Length. Yowzah!" I don't make nearly as many notes as I should with the wines we drink but this one was about as glowing as I get. I also guess that, at least on this occasion, my palate agreed with some judges at a couple big competitions involving BC wines. That's not necessarily always the case.

Unfortunately, there were only 248 cases of this Syrah made - and this was our last bottle. When Howard called this a "Small Lots" wine, he wasn't joking.

Finishing the last sips from Boo's and my glasses was a sad event. At least the Canucks played their best game of the series so far and managed a win over the Flames. So, we weren't left crying into our empty glasses. Our boys are still behind the 8-ball as far as the series goes and they still can't lose a game, but they do live to fight another day and we get to open at least one more BC Syrah.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Yikes - Some Things Are Easier to Swallow

Another Canucks/Flames playoff game, another BC Syrah.

It's Game 4 of the series and our Canucks haven't exactly been taking it to the upstart Flames. Game 4 is going to be rather pivotal and the Canucks were heading into the game down two games to one.

Unfortunately, the wine was far better than the game.

1904.  2009 Le Vieux Pin Syrah (Okangan Valley VQA)

If memory serves, I picked up a couple bottles of this '09 vintage after a BC Wine Appreciation Society tasting with Le Vieux Pin and its sister winery, La Stella. Indeed, I see that fellow BCWAS'er and fellow blogger, Russel Ball, wrote about that tasting and his Adventures in BC Wine post confirmed our tasting of the this Syrah. The wine wowed us then and it continued to work its magic now.

It was gratifying to see that the bit of ageing we'd given the bottle hadn't hurt it at all. It remained a big bodied wine with lots of fruit and a wonderfully long finish. I only wish that this description was just as applicable to the Canucks (but that wasn't the case tonight). This was only the second vintage of Syrah produced by Le Vieux Pin. So, I'm looking forward to seeing if the wines can get any better as the vines mature.

I'd also recalled the story that Russel recounted where the the winery's general manager, Rasoul Salehi, proudly advised us that this wine was breaking ground for them in Europe and how a Michelin-starred restaurant on the continent was selling this wine at €35 a glass. Pretty crazy seeing as how that's probably more than the full bottle went for over here. Not sure that I could afford a full bottle at those restaurant prices though. It would have to be a major treat - much like tickets to an actual Canucks game.

As mentioned, the wine was much better than the game. The Canucks lost the game by a 4-1 score and now their backs are against the wall. If they lose one more game to the Flames, their season is over - and I'm hardly ready for that given all the wines, Syrah and otherwise, that I have to open.

Here's hoping.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wine Wins & Hockey Losses

It's Game 3 between the Canucks and the Flames. So, that means it's also time for another BC Syrah - my grape of choice for this first round NHL playoff series. We were on our own tonight. No guests watching the game with us, trying to cheer on our squad. So, only one bottle to add to The List.

1903.  2008 Quinta Ferreira Syrah (Okanagan Valley VQA)

I was hoping that pulling a wine that won one of the 2011 Lt. Gov's Awards for Excellence in Wine would be worthy of showing some support to the Canucks - and, if nothing else, my hope was that it would be tasty enough to make us forget how the game was going (because even though I'm hopeful for the team, I'm not betting the farm on this year's Canucks and their playoff start so far).

Unfortunately, it turned out that the wine was better than the hockey game.

The night's Syrah jumped out of the glass with a bright, bold bouquet and it had a whack of dark fruit on the palate. It almost seemed too big for an Okanagan Syrah. I only wish that the Canucks had come out on the ice with as much gusto. Calgary won the game 4-2 and, once again, our boys just didn't have the polish or finish to put away the Flames.

I'm likely drawing too much of an inference and reaching a tad to far for a relation between the game and the wine but we also found that the Syrah's finish was a bit out of sorts with the rest of the wine's profile. The acidity on the finish was just a bit out of balance - not enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the wine but still enough to liken it to the Canucks' out of sorts finish.

Maybe I need to pre-taste the wine before the start of the next game in the series. After all, I wouldn't want to upset the cosmic balance of wine and hockey outcomes.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

(Benjamin) Bridging the Country

Now that I'm into the last 100 bottles before I hit the blog's stated goal of 2001, I'm hoping to open a healthier proportion of nicer bottles than we usually would - particularly during the middle of the week when it's just dinner at home. I figure this is a great place to start because I've been waiting close to a couple of years just to get my hands on a bottle of tonight's wine, let alone get to knock it back.

I don't think I would have known about the wine or the winery had we not, by happenstance, been sharing a table at an Australian Wine Appreciation Society winery dinner with Matt Lane - also known as @champagnelane on his Twitter handle.  I published a post about that dinner - an AWAS tribute to Peter Lehmann after he passed away - but what I didn't say in that post is that Matt has a passion for bubbly, particularly Champagne, and he advised us that he thought Benjamin Bridge - hailing out of all places, Nova Scotia - produced sparkling wines that rivalled some of the best of France.

Now, Boo and I had taken a quick "guided" tour of three or four wineries in the Gaspereau region of Nova Scotia when we visited Halifax in 2008 but I don't recall anyone mentioning Benjamin Bridge at all. And, heaven forbid that Nova Scotian wines would ever make it all the way across the country to be listed for sale in BC. When I saw a notice saying that some of the winery's Brut had actually made its way to BC liquor stores, I ran out to grab a couple of bottles.

Tonight we got to pop the cork.

1902.  2009 Benjamin Bridge Brut (Nova Scotia)

The winery saw its naissance around the turn of the last century. In 1999, the 60 acres that makes us the winery lands were purchased and, in the following years, the lands were cleared and studied and the first blocks of vines were planted. The winery's website explains that those studies determined that the Gaspereau is "one of the rare grape-growing regions with a growing season remarkable similar to Champagne. The valley's geography and cool climate foster extremely low natural cropping levels - leading to a precious, expensive yield of grapes with rich flavours, texture and length."

The inaugural release of a Benjamin Bridge sparkling wine was in 2004 and the production of and praise of the wine has been building ever since. The Brut is made in the traditional méthode classique; however, the fruit going into the wine are largely foreign to growers in Champagne. While a quarter of the grapes are Chardonnay, and therefore traditional to Champagne, the balance is made up of two grapes commonly grown in the Gaspereau: L'Acadie Blanc (57%) and Seyval Blanc (18%) and, although you may have never heard of them, both grapes merit reference in Jancis Robinson's tome, Wine Grapes.

The wine is aged three years on its lees, resulting in a richness on the palate. We were surprised by the surprisingly bright citrus notes though. The wine was full of tart grapefruit and lime. It could have been a sipper on its own and it was a good contrast to some rich halibut cheeks but I think it was at its best paired with some soft cheeses that we brought out for dessert. Personally, I would have loved a little more mouthfeel from an amplified mousse but I'm thrilled to have had a chance to try such an up and comer.

An added bonus is that I get to add both the L'Acadie Blanc and Seyval Blanc grapes to my Wine Century Club tally - although I'm somewhat surprised by that as I know we've had both grapes previously. I suppose it must have been before I started keeping track on this blog. This brings me up to 178. Who knows, maybe I can hit 200 and a doppel membership before I reach my goal on this blog.

Can it be any wonder why I so love this Odyssey of trying wines of all types from all regions? Here's a renowned bubbly from a tiny little region in Atlantic Canada and I get two "new" grape varieties to boot. I hope to keep 'em coming is all I can say.